Potential Landing Spots for Deshaun Watson After QB Officially Requests Trade
Three long weeks ago, when rumors began circulating that Houston Texans superstar quarterback Deshaun Watson was upset with his team and interested in being traded, we examined his potential value, market and suitors and generated some hypothetical trade packages for the 25-year-old.
We also cautioned then that Watson had not formally requested a trade, and that a swap involving the second-highest-rated passer in NFL history at that age would be unprecedented.
Well, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Watson has indeed made that formal request, and Houston's decision to hire David Culley as its new head coach "has not and will not alter Watson's thinking."
With that in mind, and with the dynamics of the potential quarterback market changing elsewhere, we've updated that analysis with a slight change to some of the possible landing spots (including the addition of the New York Jets, who were considered by many to be an omission the first time around).
This time, we'll rank potential landing spots from least to most likely.
What Should Houston Expect in Return?
In the last quarter-century, no quarterback below age 29 with multiple Pro Bowls on his resume has been traded. Watson is a three-time Pro Bowler at age 25 and was the highest-rated passer in the AFC this season.
So there isn't much of a precedent.
There have, however, been trades involving superstars in recent years.
In 2019, the Jacksonville Jaguars got two first-round picks and a fourth-rounder from the Los Angeles Rams for standout cornerback Jalen Ramsey. And earlier that year, the Texans surrendered two first-round picks and a second-round selection to the Miami Dolphins as part of a huge trade package that sent left tackle Laremy Tunsil, wide receiver Kenny Stills and a pair of Day 3 draft picks to Houston (the Texans also gave up defensive back Johnson Bademosi and offensive tackle Julie'n Davenport in that deal).
Finally, in 2018, the Chicago Bears essentially paid two first-round picks to land elite edge-defender Khalil Mack from the then-Oakland Raiders.
Two first-rounders would almost certainly be the starting point in trade discussions between the Texans and the teams we're about to list. And realistically, depending on if other players are involved or where exactly in the first round the suitor is picking, we could be looking at a package involving three first-round picks or similar draft capital.
Some may believe the price tag will be even higher, but it's important to consider that Watson has a say as a result of his no-trade clause; the rest of the league knows he's forcing Houston's hand; and he's the second-highest-paid player in league history.
In other words, the return might be surprisingly within range of what the Jags, Dolphins and Raiders received in their recent blockbuster trades.
13. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars need a quarterback, and they have the salary-cap space and the draft capital to make this work. But the Texans may insist on trading Watson outside the AFC South. He might not want to go to Jacksonville anyway considering the team's track record and limited following, and the Jags might not feel the need to chase Watson.
After all, with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft, they're positioned to land Trevor Lawrence, who is one of the most intriguing quarterback prospects of this generation.
The Texans would probably be fired up about landing Lawrence, and the Jags could prefer the proven commodity in Watson, but Lawrence's cheap rookie contract will make him especially valuable.
The top pick in this draft might actually be more valuable than Watson. But if this far-fetched trade were to go down, it'd likely have to be Lawrence for Watson straight-up.
12. Indianapolis Colts
Again, you'd have to imagine the Texans would do everything in their power to avoid trading Watson to a division rival. And in this case, the Indianapolis Colts have limited ammunition because they're a good team that can't even offer a top-20 draft pick in 2021.
That said, following Philip Rivers' retirement, they have one of the league's most glaring holes at quarterback. And for what it's worth, only the Jaguars and Washington are projected to enter the 2021 offseason with more salary-cap space than Indy.
The Colts are also likely in now-or-never mode considering the strength of their roster outside quarterback. They could decide to go YOLO and offer the Texans three first-round picks, but it's possible even that won't get the job done because Houston might fear the picks will be late in Round 1 and might determine it isn't worth trading Watson within the division for anything less than a Herschel Walker-like ransom.
11. Chicago Bears
According to Chicago-based reporter Daniel Greenberg, Jay Glazer of Fox Sports remarked recently that he expected the Bears to be "big players" on the quarterback market this offseason. That combined with ownership's decision to bring back general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy is enough to convince yours truly that Chicago just might swing the bat aggressively for Watson.
After all, Pace and Nagy are surely running low on rope after yet another season without a playoff win and a roster loaded with highly paid veterans. The time is now, and few buy into the notion that quarterbacks Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles can get it done after both struggled in 2020.
The Bears could let Trubisky walk and make room under the cap for Watson in 2021 before hoping that the NFL's cap number will skyrocket along with Watson's salary in 2022 and beyond. And Houston would probably be happy to send Watson to the NFC.
That being said, the return might not suffice. The No. 20 overall selection in this year's draft and a 2022 first-rounder almost certainly wouldn't get the job done, and even an extra Day 2 pick in this or next year's draft might not be enough. The Bears would have to ask themselves if it would be worth hollowing out the rest of the roster due to cap constraints and mortgaging their future to bring in a player they passed on early in the 2017 draft.
And would that player even be willing to go to Chicago under those circumstances?
It's all extremely unlikely.
10. Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys have insisted that they're committed to Dak Prescott, but they've been negotiating with Prescott for the better part of a year and he's just seven weeks away from hitting the open market.
Prescott's $37.7 million franchise tag in 2021 would cost a lot more than Watson's projected salary-cap hit of $15.9 million, and the latter has a better resume.
Meanwhile, in Dallas, Watson could continue to build a brand in the Lone Star state while quarterbacking the league's most popular team. You'd have to imagine he'd approve of that deal, especially considering the weapons he'd have at his disposal in the Cowboys offense.
So if the Cowboys can't get a deal done with Prescott soon, it might be worth considering an offer for Watson involving this year's No. 10 overall pick, a 2022 first-rounder and at least a Day 2 selection in either 2021 or 2022.
That said, the Texans might be extremely reluctant to trade him to their state rival.
9. Las Vegas Raiders
Derek Carr wasn't brought in by Raiders head coach Jon Gruden, who did reportedly have interest in Dwayne Haskins in 2019 before acquiring Marcus Mariota in 2020. The Raiders, who must be getting desperate after three consecutive non-playoff seasons to kick off Gruden's second tenure with the team, can save $19.6 million in cap space by parting ways with Carr.
That could enable them to afford Watson's reasonable 2021 cap hit with hopes that the cap will rise after next season when expected new television contracts kick in and the COVID-19 pandemic is (hopefully) behind us.
Regardless, Watson is undoubtedly an upgrade over Carr, and the Raiders aren't married to Carr, so there's no reason not to make the phone call. Houston would likely prefer to trade Watson outside of the conference, though, and Las Vegas has limited draft capital compared to other potential suitors.
The Raiders would probably have to give up Carr, the No. 17 overall selection, a first-rounder next year and at least another Day 2 pick. It's possible the Texans would require three first-rounders or more in this case.
8. Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers are on the hook for all but about $3 million of Teddy Bridgewater's $23 million salary-cap charge in 2021, so they might give the veteran quarterback at least one more season to prove himself.
But head coach Matt Rhule hasn't guaranteed Bridgewater the starting job, and he has continued to muse about what he wants in a franchise signal-caller. Watson clearly fits that profile better than Bridgewater, and the Panthers could dangle the No. 8 overall pick as part of a package for Houston.
Bridgewater, the No. 8 pick and a 2022 first-rounder might give the Panthers a shot at Watson, although the financial hit would be tough with key players such as left tackle Russell Okung and right tackle Taylor Moton slated to hit the open market.
Rhule could also toss in young cornerback Donte Jackson for a Texans team that could use an influx of talent at that position. However, the Panthers might not want to sacrifice a key promising defensive player without getting some draft capital back.
This still feels like a stretch.
7. Washington Football Team
When it comes to potential Watson sweepstakes, there are a lot of dynamics working for and against the Washington Football Team.
Pro: They have the cap space to make room for Watson.
Con: Their only first-round pick is the No. 19 overall selection, leaving them with less leverage than others.
Pro: With Dwayne Haskins already gone and 36-year-old Alex Smith not a realistic long-term option, they have an opening under center.
Con: Watson might not want to join a team that has been a model of dysfunction in recent years.
Pro: The NFC East is weak, and the WFT won the division with a strong defense and a promising No. 1 receiver in 2020.
Another pro? The Texans might favor a trade outside of the conference.
Ultimately, that's enough to put Ron Rivera's team in play, especially if they feel they're on the brink after a hot finish to the 2020 season. Still, they're looking at sacrificing at least that No. 19 overall pick, a 2021 first-rounder and another Day 2 selection. Three first-rounders is a more realistic expectation.
6. Denver Broncos
Even after a front-office shuffle, it doesn't appear as though the Denver Broncos are completely prepared to give up on 2019 second-round pick Drew Lock under center. Besides, new general manager George Paton isn't likely to trade away multiple first-round picks in his first offseason on the job.
With that being said, the Broncos could probably fit Watson on their payroll, they do have the No. 9 overall pick in the 2021 draft in their back pocket, and Watson might jump at an opportunity to team up with Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, Noah Fant and a talented offensive line in Denver.
As such, this scenario can't be completely ruled out, especially with John Elway still serving in an executive role and potentially running out of patience. But the Broncos would likely have to give up Lock, the No. 9 overall pick in this year's draft, a 2022 first-rounder and at least another Day 2 selection.
5. New York Jets
Assuming Lawrence goes first overall and the Jets don't somehow trade up to make that selection, they'll likely have to decide whether to stick with Sam Darnold or use the No. 2 overall pick on another blue-chip quarterback prospect like Justin Fields or Zach Wilson.
The second scenario might make the most sense for a rebuilding team that might not want to inherit Watson's massive contract in the early stages of that process, but management might also have grown impatient enough to do something bold.
In addition to the second overall pick, the Jets have three other first-round selections in the next two drafts as well as an extra third-rounder in 2021. They could flip the No. 2 pick and one other to the Texans (allowing Houston to take Fields or Wilson) and still have first-rounders in each of the next two drafts. Plus, they're projected to enter the offseason with more than $65 million in cap space, so money might not be an issue.
Maybe Watson won't want to go to an organization that hasn't made the playoffs since 2010, but the prospect of relocating to the media capital of the world might be enticing enough for him to waive his no-trade clause for Gang Green.
Don't rule it out.
4. San Francisco 49ers
Little has changed with the San Francisco 49ers, who are in win-now mode one year removed from a Super Bowl run. They have not been effusive about current quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo returning in 2021 and can pocket $23.6 million by moving on from him this offseason.
There's no reason San Francisco wouldn't take a shot at Watson, who undoubtedly has a better track record and a higher ceiling than Garoppolo and would cost less than Jimmy G in 2021.
The Niners are also located outside of Houston's conference and geographic region, and they have decent draft capital to offer with the No. 12 overall pick. They should see if the Texans would take Garoppolo, that No. 12 pick and a 2021 first-rounder, but Houston might need another Day 2 selection as well.
If general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan are serious about improving at the sport's most important position, Watson heading to San Fran should be a realistic possibility.
3. Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions and veteran quarterback Matthew Stafford have "mutually agreed to part ways" this offseason, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network. They're in the opposite conference of the Texans and can hand them the No. 7 overall pick in this year's draft.
That makes the Lions a logical potential suitor for Watson, especially if they can re-sign top receiver Kenny Golladay to convince the star quarterback that he'll be well-supported on a team that doesn't have a winning reputation.
The Texans might view Stafford as a suitable bridge quarterback with the talent and experience to possibly even excel in a new setting. That seventh overall pick might give Detroit a significant edge over San Francisco, Washington, Las Vegas or Dallas, and the Lions could also consider offering up 2020 No. 3 overall selection Jeff Okudah to a team that could use more help defending the pass.
There are plenty of avenues available, but the Lions should start with a package including Stafford and their next two first-round picks. It wouldn't be completely shocking if that became the winning bid.
2. New England Patriots
If the New England Patriots land Watson one year after losing Tom Brady, non-Patriots fans may strongly consider retiring from fandom. But the stars just might be aligned.
Texans executives Nick Caserio and Jack Easterby both go way back with Pats head coach Bill Belichick, who likely isn't in the mood for a rebuild after two decades' worth of dominance. If he can land a quarterback like Watson, he might be willing to part with this year's No. 15 overall selection and two more upcoming first-rounders.
Alternatively, two first-round picks, a Day 2 selection and a young corner like J.C. Jackson or Jonathan Jones could get the job done.
Watson might jump at the chance to play under Belichick and Josh McDaniels. The Patriots have the salary-cap space to make it happen, and Houston can at least get him out of the division in this scenario.
1. Miami Dolphins
Among all of the scenarios we drew up the first time we did this, Watson to the Miami Dolphins was the most entertaining. After all, a Miami-Houston trade would likely entail the Dolphins sending the Texans back the No. 3 overall pick that originally belonged to Houston before the Laremy Tunsil trade.
In fact, it's possible the Dolphins could land Watson in exchange for that pick, Houston's original 2021 second-round selection and 2020 No. 5 overall pick Tua Tagovailoa, who underwhelmed as a rookie but still has plenty of upside.
For the Texans, reacquiring those picks would be a poetic way to reverse some of the damage done by former head coach/general manager Bill O'Brien, and landing Tua would at least give them a promising young player under center. Meanwhile, the Dolphins would still retain some draft capital since they have four picks in the first two rounds, and they'd immediately become a Super Bowl contender with Watson on board. They also have the cap space to afford him.
Even if that return isn't enough in a bidding war, the Dolphins have more trade capital than almost anybody else in contention. They could decide to go all-in on Watson and send Tagovailoa and both of their 2021 first-rounders to the Texans, which should almost certainly be enough.
With that in mind, it's no surprise that the Dolphins are considered the front-runner in the Watson sweepstakes, according to Adam H. Beasley of the Miami Herald.
All financial figures via Spotrac.